By Chris Steinbach · Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Some members of St. Joseph Catholic Church know the value of pickled pigskin.

Six or seven years ago, when the church started talking about building a Parish Life Center and asking for donations, some of the congregation’s Hispanic members said they didn’t have money to give. Instead, they launched the church’s annual Latino Festival to raise money for the center.

“Everybody did what they could and made this thing happen,” said the Rev. Gregory Steckel, the priest at St. Joseph’s.

In its sixth year, the festival held Sunday in the 100 block of East Third Street, raised a little more than $13,000.

As in past years, perhaps the most popular item sold at this year’s festival was the duro, a Mexican snack food made of fried puffed wheat and filled with cabbage, tomatoes, onion, an avocado sauce, hot sauces and pickled pigskin.

“It was my first experience,” Steckel, who has led the church since July, said of eating a duro. “If I hadn’t known it was pickled pigskin, I would have enjoyed it completely.”

The fact that so many people enjoy a duro, along with many other delicacies served at the festival, has created new challenges for the church, including how to spend the money raised each year.  The parish center has been paid for and Steckel said money from this year’s festival may be used to fund educational programs, retreats, health care and disaster relief.

“We have to be prepared for anything that might happen,” he said.

The church may also use money from the festival proceeds, Steckel said, to pay the $400 per person fee for those who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Under the program authorized earlier this year by President Barack Obama, federal officials can grant some undocumented immigrants renewable two-year deportation reprieves and a permit needed to work legally. In order to qualify, they must be 31 or younger, have arrived in the country before their 16th birthday and meet other education, military service and criminal record requirements.

Steckel said the church will probably organize a board in the future to help Francisco Martinez, the event’s main organizer, oversee the festival and its proceeds.

Martinez does an amazing job, Steckel said, organizing some 200 volunteers and convincing entertainers to perform at the festival for half of their normal fee.

“There’s a lot of energy,” Steckel said. “Everyone pitches in and does their part. Me, I took breaks. But (the volunteers) were troopers.”
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